TOTE Maritime Alaska is now powering its ships with natural gas, cutting carbon and other pollutants

TOTE Maritime converted the two ships in its Alaska fleet to run on LNG, stored in the two big green tanks. (Courtesy TOTE)

Tote Maritime Alaska recently converted their two cargo ships to run on liquefied natural gas, or LNG, which they say makes them the first maritime company to convert its entire fleet.

The Anchorage-based company makes twice-weekly trips between Tacoma, Wash., and the Port of Alaska, carrying everything from groceries to armored vehicles. General Manager Art Dahlin said the company made the switch to comply with international standards, but also as an investment in Alaska. 

“It’s clear that ice is melting,” Dahlin said. “If you look up at the Arctic, the sea routes are opening. So we’ve made a number of investments, including LNG, to make sure that we keep Alaska as beautiful as it is, and a place that our kids can enjoy.”

The ships originally ran on the industry standard heavy fuel oil, a tar-like residue of crude oil that was inexpensive but also one of the dirtiest fuels. Heavy fuel oil emits a number of toxic pollutants like sulfur oxide — which is harmful to humans and can create acid rain.

Because of that, the International Maritime Organization set a limit in 2020, capping the amount of sulfur ships could emit. Other options to comply with the new limit include installing “scrubbers” to filter out the pollutants or using more expensive, ultra-low-sulfur-diesel, which TOTE switched to in 2017. 

Dahlin said because their ships were built relatively recently, they chose to extend their lifespan by converting to LNG. According to TOTE, the LNG fuel eliminates virtually all sulfur oxides and particulate matter, up to 95% of nitrogen oxides, and cuts carbon emissions by about 25%. 

He said they would love to be able to get to zero emissions, but LNG is the cleanest option right now. 

“There has to be a stopgap in between,” Dahlin said. “I think we all would love to get to, to be free of fossil fuels to power our vessels —  that’s just not out there right now.”

Dahlin said if a zero emission fuel becomes available, the company will look to incorporate it in its next class of vessels.

He said while the conversion process was extremely expensive, they expect LNG to provide a more stable fuel cost moving forward.

Michael Fanelli reports on economics and hosts the statewide morning news at Alaska Public Media. Reach him at or 907-550-8445. Read more about Michael here.

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